A typical healthy adult's heart beats an average of 70 times per minute, but this is not a constant rate. Your heart beats faster when you inhale and slower when you exhale. Understanding this cycle will help you regulate your breathing to optimize your blood pressure and heart beat during exercise as well as when performing calming or relaxation techniques.
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The Valsalva maneuver, in which you hold your breath during exertion then exhale forcefully against a closed airway such as a closed mouth or pinched nose, can raise your heart rate significantly. You may have used this technique to clear or equalize pressure in the sinuses or to expel an object from the body during a bowel movement or while in labor. However, it can increase the heart rate enough to cause cardiac arrest in vulnerable individuals.
During exercise, your goal is to increase your heart rate, which also raises your blood pressure. According to a study by researchers at the Hammons Heart Institute and the University of Missouri, performing the Valsalva maneuver during strenuous exercise provided significant increases in blood pressure. Inhaling and exhaling during the concentric phase of each exercise provided no significant difference in blood pressure.
Regulated breathing techniques are often recommended to help individuals deal with stressors such as emotional upheaval, anger and fear. These techniques also help regulate physical pain. Most techniques emphasize a long exhalation phase during which the heart rate slows. Lowering the heart rate reduces the body's stress response, reducing the amount of adrenaline produced. Reducing the amount of adrenaline in the bloodstream also reduces the experience of pain and anxiety.
Respiratory Sinus Rhythmia
The typical heart rate increases during inhalation followed by a decrease during exhalation. In some individuals, this pattern is muted and the heart rate remains relatively stable despite changes in breathing. This is most commonly caused by disruption in breathing, either from an obstructive lung disorder such as asthma or bronchitis, or from a restrictive lung disorder such as emphysema. This can lead to abnormal heart rhythms and decreased blood flow.